2021-05-12 Stories - The Golden Goose
2:57PM May 12, 2021
Today, I will continue with telling stories. I've been telling Jataka tales. Jati means birth. These are tales of the previous births, they say, of the Buddha – former lifetimes. Many of them are from when he was an animal. They're kind of like Aesop's fables – fairy tales, as many of them have characteristics of the fairy tales we tell to children.
Sometimes I think these fairy tales, as wonderful as they are for children, maybe they're really meant for adults. Perhaps adults can apply them and understand the deeper meaning of them. Maybe adults have the best chance of living out of the values of some of these wonderful tales.
The tale today is called the Golden Goose. It's very similar to a European tale of the goose or the chicken that lays golden eggs. Maybe this points to the idea that some of these ancient stories – fables – were pan-cultural. They may have traveled, moving through the world, because people were inspired by them or they were meaningful.
In the Buddhist version of this there were two farmers, a husband and wife, and their two children. They eked out an existence, working really hard on their farm, just barely growing enough to support themselves and their children. It was a tough life, on the edge of poverty and starvation.
I'm going to change the usual genders of this story. I think that some of the ways these ancient stories are gendered are optional. I think some of the fables are probably getting a little bit tired – there always being the same kind of stereotypes of gender in them. So maybe it's okay to change them.
At some point, the wife started to feel sick, and she got progressively sicker and sicker. It became clear that she wasn't going to survive. She was going to die. As she was lying there in bed, she made a resolve that she would come back. She'd be reborn in such a way that she could come back and support her family. And so she died.
The night after she died, the children had a dream. The dream was that their mother came back to see them and said, "Dear ones. Soon, I'll be coming back. In a few months I'll come back. I'll support you, make sure you're okay and that you don't starve. When I come back, you won't recognize me by what I look like. But I'll identify myself for you, and you'll know it's me."
So the children woke up the next morning and told their father about this wonderful dream. The father, who was already quite heartbroken from the loss of his wife said, "Oh. Dreams just make life more difficult. You get disappointed and all that. You should forget those kinds of dreams." But the children didn't forget the dreams. They kept the dream alive. They would talk between themselves about their dream and how their mother would come back.
And then, many months later, this goose started waddling up the path toward the farm. The goose was quite large and fat. And it was peculiar in that its feathers were golden – golden colored. When the farmer saw that, he thought, "Oh. Food for our dinner. Finally! We've been hungry now for days." And he went out to capture the goose. But the goose knew what was happening, ran away into the forest, and hid in safety.
But later in the day, the goose came back out when the farmer was away, cooking. And it came up to the children who were playing outside and said to them, "My dear children. I'm your mother and I've come back. I'm here to take care of you this way: Each day, pluck one feather from me, but only one feather, and hold the feather up to the sunlight. It'll turn to solid gold. You'll have that gold you can sell. It can support and take care of you, the family." Then the goose said, "Do it right now."
So the kids plucked one feather and held it up to the sun. Sure enough, Poof!, it turned into metallic gold. They ran back to their father, who was cooking in the kitchen, and said, "Look what we have! This goose came along and told us that if we held up its feather, it would turn into gold. And we could have that gold. But there was a caveat. The goose said that we were supposed to pluck only one feather a day." The farmer was quite surprised and said, "Show me." They went out, saw the goose outside, and the kids said again, "But you only pluck one feather."
So the next day they went out. They plucked a feather and, sure enough, holding it up the sun, it turned to gold. They did that every day. And pretty soon, although they didn't become phenomenally wealthy, they had enough wealth to live safely and comfortably. It was a good time for them. They had enough food and clothes and their welfare was basically taken care of.
In these circumstances, at some point, the farmer was getting more and more comfortable. But there was a discontent. "Well. There may be a fortune to be made here. I could get really wealthy from this goose. What if I pluck 'all' the feathers out? Then I'll have a big fortune, and who knows what I can do then"? But the kids said, "No, no. You can't do that. Just one feather a day."
So the farmer waited and thought about it. He thought, "Well. You know, it's dangerous if I just let the goose live around here. The wolves and the foxes might come along and and gobble it up and then we'll have no feathers at all. It's better to harvest all the feathers now and have wealth than it is to have the possibility of losing it."
So when the kids were off someplace playing, the farmer found the goose, grabbed it, and pulled out fistfuls of feathers. He pulled all the feathers off the goose and put them in a basket. Then he held the basket up to the sun so they would turn into gold. And lo and behold, nothing happened. Distraught, the farmer then scattered the all the feathers on the ground so all of them would somehow get direct sunlight. Nothing happened. The farmer yelled out in despair, "Oh, no!"
The kids heard, came running over, and saw what had happened. They said, "Oh, no! Mother told us that we only take one feather from the goose at a time." "Your mother,? the farmer said. "No, no." Then the farmer said, "Well, you know, the feathers will grow back."
So they waited some days or weeks – however long – and the feathers did grow back. But now they came back gray, dull gray, rather than the gold that had been the color of the feathers before. And if they took a feather out and held it up to the sun, nothing happened. After some time, the goose just flew off and never came back.
This wasn't a complete disaster because of the feathers they already had. They did have enough – had gathered enough – to see to their basic well-being for the rest of their time. So they continued living that way and the kids grew up well enough.
But greed, here we are. All of us are the recipients of generosity. Each of us. The world is, in a sense, like a golden goose. The world – the earth – provides us with feathers that we can harvest, take care of, and use to live well. But then we get greedy and afraid of losing it, as human beings gather all together and want more and more and more. On this planet, for hundreds of years – even as far back in the time as two to three thousand years ago – we've been over-consuming, over-farming land and destroying it. The civilizations that grew there have died out because the land became infertile.
So there's a tendency in human beings to overdo it. We take too much, and more and more and more, and then destroy the very thing that is providing for us. This is happening again today in this world – the drive to consume, to have, to want, to have greed. We're not carefully contenting ourselves with the one feather that's just enough to let us live well and happily, but instead we strive for more and more and more.
What is your golden goose? What are the feathers that you collect? And when is it that you take so much that you take more than is given, more than is sustainable, and maybe even destroy the goose? I wonder how many people have gone into debt that way. How many have consumed, somehow then can't repay their debts, and are in trouble?
Meditation is one of the ways of learning how to abide in deep contentment, deep satisfaction, and a deep sense of well-being and peace which is not dependent on material goods, wealth, and having more and more and more things. But rather, it's a way to grow in a healthy kind of way, more and more. The Buddha used the word "abundance" when referring to some of these inner qualities that can develop. Perhaps the real gold is the gold within. If we learn how to connect to that inner gold, we'll find out that we have all the gold we need to have a happy and contented life. May your heart be the golden goose Thank you.